Uptown Saint John Gets Chopping

The wind is stiff and the leaves are changing. As we slowly slide away from summer and into the thick of autumn, it can seem easier to stay bundled up inside our homes or isolated in our offices. Thankfully, we can rely on Chop Chop, Saint John’s biannual restaurant week, to warm our insides and lift our spirits using the very best of local cuisine. Running the week of October 27th to November 2nd, Chop Chop may be exactly what you need to push away that seasonal depression.

Kimberley Steele of East Coast Bistro (John England/The East)
Kimberley Steele of East Coast Bistro (John England/The East)

For the uninitiated, the idea of Chop-Chop was conceived by a few of Saint John’s uptown restaurant owners in the fall of 2009. The concept was simple: a full week of unique lunch and dinner options at consistent prices throughout the city. Fellow restaurants recognized this as an opportunity to promote uptown Saint John’s diverse and complementary dining scene, and the biannual event has been success ever since. With a number of independent restaurants, all located within a few blocks, there are plenty of options to water the mouth of any foodie.

Chop Chop meals come in three distinct forms: the Chop Chop plate, Chop Chop Lunch, and Chop Chop Dinner. Not all restaurants feature all three options, but that may be a good thing as, in a number of cases, it can be too hard to choose between the unique and delectable dishes. It’s better to accept that you’ll have to make return visits throughout the week.

Editor's note: This bacon and mushroom risotto cake with blue cheese mornay sauce was delicious.
Jim Hayes of Britt’s Pub & Eatery (John England/The East)

This year, there are over thirty restaurants, big and small, participating in Chop Chop, and the ingenuity they’re literally bringing to the table is mouthwatering. If you’re interested in a twist on some Atlantic classics, Grannan’s Seafood Restaurant is featuring lobster sliders for lunch and seafood tortellini alfredo as their main for dinner.  For fans of fusion cooking, Thandi’s is featuring their famous sampler platter, consisting of basmati rice, naan bread, and two types of curry, for lunch and either a banana chicken thai curry or oriental beef medallions served with basmati rice. Both are concluded with their sweet Indian rice pudding. Britt’s pub and eatery is offering more contemporary twist on English classics with their offering of grilled market sausage, daikon kimchi, prosciutto, blonde ale mustard, and arugula in a toasted hoagie for lunch, and a braised beef shank with mashed potatoes for dinner. A number of the restaurants in the City Market will also be participating in Chop-Chop at lunchtime. With that in mind, I would suggest that there are too many unique and festive options to fully exhaust in a single paragraph. For those who want to learn more, each participating restaurant’s options are on the Chop Chop official website.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with some of the local restaurants and trying a handful of Chop Chop dishes. While I was happy to get my hands on whatever they would prepare, I was more interested in what factored in to their menu design. Joshua Hogan, executive chef York pub + bistro, gave me a bit of perspective. “We’ve paired up with North Market Seafood to find the most local, seasonal fish. They told me what they have and I designed the whole menu around it.” I got the impression that most, if not all of the chefs were also aiming for extremely local and seasonal items as well.

When asked what her favorite thing about Chop Chop was, Kimberley Steele, co-chef/co-owner East Coast Bistro, said it was the high-speed of the event. “It changes our service, as we’re used to having more time, as people usually tend to get multiple courses. When it is Chop Chop, you’re doing the same number of courses in under half the time. It’s a lot of teamwork back of house, but we also look forward to it. It’s a good exercise.” Josh Hogan echoed those comments, but also said it was “a chance to show the Saint John public what we’re really capable of.”

These are the media people in your neighbourhood (John England/The East)
These are the media people in your neighbourhood (John England/The East)

Chop Chop is also making a difference with the youth of Saint John, one meal a time. The restaurants have used Chop Chop as a platform to raise charitable donations in support of the Lunch Connection, a program which provides healthy lunches to the students of local schools in vulnerable neighborhoods. $1 from every Chop Chop dish sold is accounted for and given directly to this cause. Currently, there are a total of 570 children in the Saint John region registered in the Lunch Connection hot lunch program and more than 70,000 meals are served each year. In speaking with the local restaurants, you can really tell that they are 100% behind this cause. Holly Singh, co-owner Thandi’s, said as much to me while I was stuffing my face with her delicious food. “I really see the need for the uptown restaurant to support our future clients, and there is a need out there. It has a good buzz in the air, and it is great to see everyone giving back.”

At this point you may be wondering what food items I enjoyed while sampling dishes. While I am by no means a food expert, I can tell you that the York bistro + pub’s marlin fish tacos with pineapple salsa and chipotle sour cream are absolutely worth your time come lunch hour. I can also attest to the quality of Vito’s fire grilled pizza, which had the perfect blend of sausage, spinach, garlic, and banana peppers. Finally, the dessert that took my breath away was East Coast Bistro’s sticky toffee pops. These little balls of heaven come with finely complimentary Jack Daniels toffee sauce, black pepper whip cream, and a raspberry coulis made with NB berries. Chop Chop hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already dreading when it is over.

If you happen to be in the greater Saint John region between October 27th and November 2nd, it is highly recommended that you come out and experience local food prepared by the city’s most talented chefs. Spice up your lunch and dinners, and try a Chop Chop plate to discover the unique tastes uptown Saint John truly has to offer. The food is delicious, the prices are consistent, and it beats staying in for the night.

Chop Chop Swag (John England/The East)
Chop Chop Swag (John England/The East)
‘Trent Seely is the author of ‘In Stitches’, a regular contributer to RPGamer, Nerds on the Rocks, and a good Saint John boy. You can find his blog, Punctual Dork, here.’